Friday, February 11, 2011

Alex Scarrow at St Birinus: how cool is this?

Whilst we were packing up at the end of Alex Scarrow's high-octane event on Thursday, two boys (who may have been sixth-formers at the school, it was difficult to tell) ambled up to the author, and said "man, you're possibly the coolest-looking author we've ever seen."

I have to agree.

Let's examine the evidence: left college, spent ten years in the music business. Had own recording studio. Left to become v.successful as a games designer. Has very cool rock-star looks. Has just signed huge deal with Puffin and has v.famous bestselling writing brother.

Mind you, I think he's particularly cool for other reasons: he fell out of the reading habit at 13, but re-engaged with books, reading and writing motivated in part by a son who is a reluctant reader. To kids enamoured with computer games, he offers up reading as the "alternative".

The event - our first at St Birinus School in Didcot - was an energetic, articulate and passionate affair involving awesome videos, brain-achingly hard history questions and repeated passionate appeals to the boys to read. And Alex seemed to strike home in terms of inspiring the more than 120 boys in the audience.

Alex's publicity photo looks like this:
In real life though he looks way more cool:
Aside from writing adult thrillers (which he was at pains to warn the boys off reading. They were dark, twisted, nasty - to be left alone. Yep. That should do it ;-) ) he has written three children's novels under the Time Riders banner.

Simply put, Time Riders involves a super-secret organisation, with isolated cells operating around the world, watching for people messing with time, and then working against the odds (and the clock) to change it back. These books are epic in scale, and you can only imagine the fun Alex has had in imagining different scenarios: what if the nazis had won WWII? What if dinosaurs hadn't died out? The books contains elaborate and complex plots and timelines, there's genetic engineering and artificial intelligence, atomic weaponry and digressions on big philosophical issues. Oh, and Nazis invading Washington DC. What's not to like, as the saying goes?

The books are gripping and, yes, violent in places. But it's comic book violence, and (largely) any characters that do meet grisly ends (and in book one this certainly happens) the great thing about fixing time is that (mostly) everyone gets to come back. Mostly.
Alex split the boys into two groups, rooting for teams in his high-octane history quiz. There were prizes, there were Millionaire-style lifelines...
...and even a quick-fire general history round at the end with a proper table-top press-bell thing...

There was some shameful examples of help being shouted out by various teachers present, but despite this the quiz was a close-run thing. And we all learned that the battle of Stamford Bridge was not fought in WWII...
Prizes were awards, books signed, and we got into all kinds of trouble by over-running into subsequent lessons, but the headmaster was on hand to gamely step in. We also had some very good questions at the end.

Our big thanks to St Birinus for bending over backwards to accomodate Alex (given the hall was set up for The Wizard of Oz and we were warned on pain of death to stay off the yellow-brick road) but huge thanks also to Alex for dropping in on a tortuous week of events all over the country. Time Riders is a cracking series, huge fun, with strong male and female characters and all the elements of page-turning thrillers to keep kids reading. Come and discover them in the shop...and watch the trailer here below. It's very, ahem, cool...

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